By Alec Johnson
This season’s NBA FInals has brought a lot of attention to the Miami Heat franchise. What maybe hasn’t gotten much attention, is that the Heat have a new, 2-year hybrid partnership with their NBA D-League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce.
What does this mean? Basically, the Heat have control of the Skyforce’s basketball operations while the Skyforce controls the sales and marketing aspects. The new agreement will begin in the 2013-14 season.
Mad Ants President Jeff Potter weighed in on the recent partnership.
“I think anytime you can get the world champs, a premium franchise involved with you is a great thing. More importantly (it’s) a great thing for the Heinemans (Skyforce President is Mike Heineman) and Sioux Falls. It has been fantastic for this league and its growth, and I’m very happy for them,” Potter said.
The recent partnership between the Heat and Skyforce shows a growing trend of single affiliates. Miami is the record 13th team to have a single affiliation with an NBA D-League team, according to an article on the NBA D-League website.
“I think it’s becoming a competitive advantage for teams to have a D-League affiliate, and to operate them in a fashion where they can run their offense, they have a little more control over how the basketball ops run versus multiple affiliates, so I think you’re going to see more and more NBA teams following this path,” said Jon Bishop, the NBA’s Director of Team Marketing and Business Operations, who also works as a consultant for five D League teams, including the Mad Ants.
Assistant Coach Steve Gansey agrees, saying that this is good for the league, and it helps the D-League to gain respect among other basketball leagues, and is good for the players’ development as well.
“When you have these NBA teams buying these D-League teams, it definitely helps these players that are in the D-League, and it gives them a better chance to be getting called up during the season. I think it’s great overall because more and more NBA teams are buying into the D-League,” Gansey said.
In terms of NBA affiliations, there are four types. The first is the kind that the Mad Ants have, which is an independent affiliation with multiple NBA teams. Four teams affiliate themselves with the Mad Ants, and they are the Indiana Pacers, Charlotte Bobcats, Milwaukee Bucks, and Detroit Pistons. Having an independent affiliation means that the Mad Ants are free to run their basketball operations, sales, and marketing while still affiliating with NBA teams, who can send players down. The Mad Ants can also have players called up to the NBA affiliates. Other teams with this style are the Bakersfield Jam (Atlanta Hawks, LA Clippers, Phoenix Suns, Toronto Raptors), Iowa Energy (Chicago Bulls, Denver Nuggets, New Orleans Pelicans, Washington Wizards), and the Reno Bighorns (Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings, Utah Jazz).
The next style is the opposite of the Mad Ants’, and its called NBA team ownership, where an NBA team controls everything their D-League affiliate does. The Canton Charge (Cleveland Cavaliers), Austin Toros (San Antonio Spurs), Los Angeles D-Fenders (LA Lakers), Santa Cruz Warriors (Golden State Warriors), and Tulsa 66ers (Oklahoma City Thunder) operate in this capacity.
Finally, there’s the hybrid style of affiliation like the Heat and Skyforce. These teams include the Springfield Armor (Brooklyn Nets), Maine Red Claws (Boston Celtics), Rio Grande Valley Vipers (Houston Rockets), Erie Bayhawks (New York Knicks), and the Idaho Stampede (Portland Trailblazers).
Potter says that this recent move won’t affect any of the current Mad Ants’ NBA affiliations, and that the team was open to the possibility if it fits their interests, and they would talk to current ownership about what they wanted to do. At the moment, the team president is content about where the team is going.
“At this time, we’re enjoying being an independent team and a lot of the freedom that comes with that,” he said. “Right now, we’re having a good time doing what we’re doing.”
So what’s it’s like having affiliations with four other NBA teams, and still being able to do what you want? Potter explained the things the Mad Ants are able to do compared to other teams who are owned by their NBA team.
“For us, we like the idea that we control our product, and that allows us to bring in players, hire our coaches. If we like a player, we can move him out, and we would not have that opportunity to do that if we had partnered with an NBA team in a hybrid as Sioux Falls has,” Potter said.
As for the relationships with the teams, Potter said it was nice, but that his first priority is the Mad Ants, and making sure that the players are supported and the coaches have everything they need. He also praised his coaching staff of Gansey and Head Coach Duane Ticknor.
“Luckily I’ve got two good coaches who work hard. I make sure I get my calls into NBA teams, our affiliates, to keep them up to date, and let them know what we’re up to, but I’ve also got two really great coaches with great contacts,” Potter said. “They do a lot of that work, too, and foster (those relationships), so we’ve got three people working on it. I feel like we’ve done a pretty good job, and hopefully our affiliates feel the same way about fostering those relationships, and that they feel comfortable with us. And the big thing is, that they’re comfortable sending their young players, their young investments, down to play with us,” he said.
As for Coach Gansey, he saw the benefits that can come with single affiliations, saying that D League teams would be more comfortable with one NBA team in charge (plus more resources and money), but he also said that having multiple affiliates can be good as well due to there being more teams that can send players down to franchises like the Mad Ants.
Gansey also went a bit more in-depth about the Mad Ants relationship with the Indiana Pacers. He said it was the first time in both franchises’ history that they had utilized each other.
“I thought it was great. They sent down Miles (Plumlee) and Orlando (Johnson); It was a great relationship. They got to know us, they asked us to go down there for training camp, and we watched training camp and we got to know their coaches, too. Just basically got to know those guys and ask them what they want from us and Coach Ticknor and I, and to try and keep developing a good relationship, and we had a great relationship throughout the whole year,” he said.
Gansey and Ticknor even got to watch the Pacers’ home playoff games this season.
“Coach Tick (Ticknor) and I watched almost every game because they wanted us down there, they wanted us to be seen around their players and everything.” Gansey said. “It just shows you that they’re buying into what we’re doing, too.”
Having these relationships with the Pacers and other affiliates can only serve to help the ultimate goals of the Mad Ants franchise, and both Potter and Gansey are looking to the future.
“Well, every year is to make the playoffs. We made the playoffs this past season, which was great, but I think our goal this next year is to do the same thing, which is to make the playoffs, but we’d like to get out of that first round,” he said.
To do that, he said, the team needs to get off to a better start to the season.
“We can’t start off 3-10 and then kind of start all over,” Gansey said. “Jeff (Potter) and Coach Tick (Ticknor) did a great job bringing in some veteran players and we did a great job turning it around big time. But we definitely have to start off with a good start so we don’t have to keep winning towards the end of the year and then it really becomes a good race for that last playoff spot. We don’t want to be in that position. We want to feel comfortable and (be) playing the best basketball at the end of the year.”
Gansey also hopes to keep some of the players that the team acquired last year around, and hopes to get some players from the draft.
Potter also hopes for the best with his team, and wants it to be something special for Fort Wayne, something the city can be proud of.
“It’s high-level basketball and a high level of entertainment that’s affordable for families, that they can go out and really see some top-notch basketball and that’s what this league is now. It’s really great basketball for really affordable prices, and I think we’re really doing that so far,” he said.